Lisbon treaty faces further hurdles

Constitutional Court, photo: CTK

After the Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that the Lisbon treaty was in line with the Czech constitution, ratification of the key document in the Czech Republic is arguably back on track. But even so, ratifying the treaty may not be easy. Opponents who fear the document erodes national sovereignty and cedes too much power to Brussels, have indicated they will do everything in their power to stop it from being passed. Supporters, meanwhile, would like to see the document ratified as soon as possible, preferably before the Czech Republic takes up the EU presidency on January 1.

Constitutional Court,  photo: CTK
Out of the frying pan and into the fire: that might be one way of describing the coming days in the Czech Republic for the EU’s Lisbon treaty. On Wednesday, supporters breathed a sigh of relief when the document, which is aimed at reforming the EU, was given the green light by the Czech Constitutional Court, but there is a long way to go before it will be ratified yet. Strongly opposed are a number of Civic Democrat senators, who say they will send it back to the constitutional court – on different grounds - even if the treaty finds a necessary majority in Parliament, in itself not guaranteed. On Wednesday, Senator Jaroslav Kubera, a vocal “Lisbon” opponent, outlined planned steps on Czech TV:

“The first step is to vote against the treaty in the Senate and if it fails in the Senate it simply won’t pass… If it passes, we will try to put together 17 senators who will appeal to the Constitutional Court again.”

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Another obstacle to ratification lies with the country’s President Václav Klaus, arguably the treaty’s fiercest critic. He has already suggested that even if it is approved by Parliament, he won’t sign the document before Ireland resolves its own treaty “woes”; voters rejected the document in June. In order to be approved, the treaty requires ratification by all 27 EU-member states.

As for Czech supporters, Wednesday’s decision sent some scrambling for the treaty to be put to the vote as soon as possible. The Greens, the smallest party in the coalition, are seeking wider backing for an extraordinary session of the lower house to put the treaty to the vote. But others – even treaty supporters such as Social Democrat MP Jan Hamáček, who heads the Foreign Relations committee - say it might not be possible to settle the matter quite so quickly.

Jan Hamáček
“I don’t think that it’s a good idea to start calling for extraordinary sessions because for us to be able to vote on the treaty in the second reading, we have to finish the debates in the committees, and none of the three committees, including my own, have finished yet. All those are calling for a vote in parliament should make sure that all the proceedings should be done according to the rules of procedure. Therefore, the committees have to approve first.”

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, a lukewarm supporter of the treaty, suggested earlier that the vote will only be taken in the new year, only after the Czech Republic takes up the EU presidency. As for its chances of passing? Some say fair, others say difficult to predict. Certainly its chances are higher in the Chamber of Deputies, where it can count on support of 70 opposition Social Democrats, as compared to the Senate, where support is lower.